The Commercialisation of Organisational Democratic Processes: Through The Eye of the Campaign Budget
By Precious Banda
The Journey towards the 2017 54th National Conference of the ANC has been very interesting and should give an opportunity for deep reflections on organisational renewal. The journey to December must allow those who care to worry about the strength of the organisation that must carry the organisation forward beyond the conference to do so deeply. Because beyond Conference there is an organisation that must continue to inspire confidence to the masses of our people. This means in everything we do now, we must be concerned about the unity of the movement and ensure we defend our gains and the very foundation this organisation was built on.
As we lobby for our preferred candidates, we must not allow wrong elements to find expression and to get entrenched. We need to guard against wrong tendencies that manifest themselves in the name of lobbying for our preferred candidates. We must fight against patriarchy, tribalism, corruption, dispensing of patronage to members in exchange for support, factionalism, anti factionalism - factionalism and purging of those who hold different views among the many wrong tendencies that are eating the soul of the people's movement.
A lot of wrong things are happening and reproducing themselves in the name of lobbying, and the closer we get to Conference the more the tendencies get intensified. The structure of campaigns, the liberal candidates pages and websites, un-organisational t-shirts and regalia bearing faces and names of candidates and the criss-crossing of the Country obviously come at serious costs hence this offering debunking the commercialisation of organisational processes which in my view creates limitations to democracy in the ANC. The different campaign regalia and material dont only come at a heavy costs but also weaken the unity of the ANC.
I suspect there is a space for lobbyists and campaign managers among us who make a hundreds of thousands of Rands out of hefty campaign budgets mobilised to prepare a vicious battle against comrades who don't hold the same views. We need to interrogate the role of lobbyists and campaign managers especially those who are not in structures of the movement, what role do they play against the unity of the organisation? I was shocked to learn that there are people who own a fleet of cars branded with ANC colours and logos and use them for mobilisation at a price, so they mobilise masses at a cost and our leaders go to address. Now even mobilisation is tenderised, this is a sad state of affairs for any pro poor revolutionary organisation. The goodwill and brand of the ANC is used by these people who own these cars they hire out to our leaders at the expense of the ANC and its unity.
Key among these interesting occurrences has been how lobbying and campaigning for those with interest has been more media based, with the use of social networks becoming more critical. This meant that our comrades with interests and their lobbyists had to literally market their candidates in a liberal way on all these social media platforms and in media in its entirety. We saw our leaders presenting themselves in front of cameras declaring their interests to lead the organisation, from there followed selfies and photos of events they addressed asserting that indeed the ground was fertile for each of them somewhere. The whole scenery is scattered with leaders desperate in public platforms to prove that they are the best or the better ones you would swear it's a beauty contest with judges and cheer leaders ready to give high scores to the most convincing.
Firstly these early campaigns started despite the ANC NEC not opening up the process. Our leaders defied the discipline of the organisation. They did not care what precedence they set, these campaigns were launched and the momentum was not going to be allowed to die, it had to be sustained at the expense of the discipline of the organisation. We must remember the saying that discipline does not exist for its own sake but exists to guard the unity of the organisation. All this did not matter to our leaders. The stakes had been made so high.
On social network the insults from different supporters of the different contenders were launched too. Comrades insulting each other like there will be no ANC that needs all of them united after Conference. Our leaders discredited by their own comrades only because they were not preferred or because of different factional alignment. To say we must be modern and make use of social networks and move with evolving times is not to give ourselves a leeway to self distraction on these platforms. The principle of closed sessions that we close from the public must inform what kind of content the membership put on social networks and what measures do we put in place under organisational renewal to combat and discourage such ill discipline. We need to explore what kind of monitoring tools are available for this purpose of guarding the unity of the organisation on social networks.
To this extent, it is clear that the Processes of the movement that must be internalised were put out there in distractive lobbying that weakened the fighting capacity of the movement. Especially that external forces who are not members of the ANC or not from alliance organisations claimed for themselves a particular space to be critical voices of opinion in the body politics of internal processes of the movement. This in my observation meant we need to re-imagine what kind of an organisation do we need moving forward and perhaps ask ourselves what function of membership and the democratic movement have we outsourced that allows these weaknesses that undermine internal processes going to Conferences? What are we doing or not doing right that allows our democratic processes to be infiltrated by wrong elements.
When you look at the campaign trails of all our contenders who are declaring their availability in media, what becomes clear is that you cannot contest or avail yourself if you are poor or if you are not backed by those with resources. What this means is that majority of ANC members who happen to be poor and working class will never be able to contest for the highest leadership positions. So there is a systematic and institutionalised exclusion of the poor by commercialising these democratic processes. While the constitution says every member has a right to nominate or to be nominated, its only those who have resource muscle or back up can contest. The long term effect is that we might have an organisation led by elites only who are detached from the masses if we allow this systematic exclusion of the poorest of the poor because it is too expensive for them to avail themselves and contest for leadership positions.
The poor will not be able to have a budget for a campaign, so only those with a budget will contest for ANC leadership positions. Its a painful reality we must digest. There is no space for zero budget campaigns unfortunately because contenders must travel, masses must be organised to events and transported, given t-shirts and sometimes fed, sound systems and decorations of venues must be paid for. A Conference market actually exists and tenders for printing of these divisive counter revolutionary tshirts is created. Caterers and marquees are hired sometimes many times. So Conference year is also a year of the service provider. Therefore the sad reality is that our leaders will be chosen through the eye of a campaign budget and not through the eye of the needle.
The dispensing of patronage becomes rife at these Conference times, those who seat in cores acquire benefits not available to just everyone. I think the structure of cores is similar to that of labour brokers, between the membership who make decisions in branches and the budget of a particular campaign are comrades of the core who direct how and when those resources are used. These corists rip off the power of branches and they count and own branches like personal belonging.
These tendencies and many more occur while we watch them. Some of the pertinent questions the ANC must ask itself is if we have capacity to correct and stop the commercialisation of contesting leadership positions like we are in America. Part of the burden of changing and rebranding the organisation to adapt to current highly innovative and technological times today is the ability to live up to these times without losing ourselves to tendencies that weaken the power of branches and membership which in turn weaken the unity and fighting capacity of the organisation.
Membership must assert itself and discourage the expectation of patronage from those who are available. Membership must ultimately show that while campaigns and resources have been invested, it is them that have the final say through nominations which are now open. The basic unit the branch must show that beyond factions and polarised campaigns, the responsibility to unite and defend the organisation rests with them.
Among the decisions the Conference must take is whether this mode of contestation and campaigning for candidates is sustainable considering the damage it causes the ANC in light of vigilant opposition parties which continue to capitalise from our own differences and weaknesses. We must bear in mind what we have always said that leadership contestation and election should never be a point of weakness. Our different views must reaffirm our strength and a pool of capacity among us not a weakness.
We must interrogate with maximum sufficient honesty how a pro poor organisation like the ANC has its processes commercialised limiting the participation of the poor in its key leadership positions going to Conference because of the unbearable financial costs and implications involved with being available today. I wish the branches well as they begin to nominate, it must never be through the eye of the campaign budget but the needle. Whether the ANC is able to self correct both in form and content from these tendencies rests with the branches and the membership.
Former SASCO TG,
YCLSA National Committee and Political Commission Member